Maravi Empire

Maravi Empire or Maravi Confederacy(1500-1700) was an African Empire that occupied present day central and southern Malawi, parts of Zambia, and to the coast of Mozambique. It comprised of several kingdoms: Nyanja, Manganja, Chewa. The people of the latter three kingdom were known as the Maravi. Maravi meant peoples of the fire.

Political Organization 

Maravi kingship is believed to have come from the Luba. Kingship began in the 1400s when the Phiri clan married into the Banda clan of the Nyanja, south of Lake Malawi. They took on the title kalonga (king). Maravi kings developed their own royal rituals. The Maravi king was represented by the perpetual fire, which was fed with reed mats. The fire would go out at the death of the king. The fire was invoked during the end of the dry season.


Maravi was actively involve with the ivory trade, which it transported to Swahili traders and later Portuguese traders on the coast. The Portuguese tried to monopolize the gold and ivory trade around the 1580s and 1590s. The attempt was met with extreme retaliation by the Maravi of Lundu. They unleashed their wa-Zimba army, who sacked the Portuguese trading towns of Tete and Sena and other towns. The cannibalism of wa-Zimba spread terror to the populace of northern Mozambique, particularly Makua territory to the Mozambican coast. 

Iron was also a major source of export to the Swahili and Portuguese traders, which the Maravi manufactured. Later with the decline of Maravi central authority, slave trading would take root.

Kalonga Masula and empire

Around the early 1600s, Kalonga Masula(1600-1650) engaged in expansion of the Maravi Confederacy. Via military conquest, by 1635 Kalonga had extended the territory from the Zambezi to the west to Mozambique Island in the east. Kalonga tried invading the southern Mutapa Kingdom in 1623, but was thwarted. His empire fell apart, largely due to a lack of central institution put into place during his conquest.


Maravi Empire began to decline in the 1700s, largely due to lack of strong central authority. Fleeing the mfecane/difiqane of southern Africa, Nguni groups under Zwangendaba invaded the regions, conquering locals and enslaving the population. Yao slave traders in the mid 1800s with guns, provided by the Swahili, caused much population decline and violence to the region and took over the ivory trade in the Shire Valley to the Mozambican and Kilwa ports. 

Works Cited

Appiah, Kwame Anthony and Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.(1999). Africana: the Encyclopedia of African and African American Experience. Basic Civitas Books, p. 1229. ISBN 0-465-00071-1

Newit, M. D. D. The Early History of the Maravi. Journal of African History, 23(1982, pp. 145-162.

Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa. Revised 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 201-202. ISBN 0-333-59957-8